The 85th Legislative Session has come to a close. Here is a look at some of the key agriculture-related bills considered in Austin this year. Given the total number of bills introduced, this is not an exhaustive list of every bill that came up this session, but instead highlights some of the more important and more popular bills related to agriculture. To look up more information about any of these bills or to search for other bills by number or topic, visit Texas Legislature Online.
BILLS THAT PASSED
HB 338, known as the Producer Protection Act, relates to agricultural production purchase contracts. It passed, signed by Governor Abbott, and became law on September 1, 2017. Specifically, it requires express delineation between acreage and production contracts and limits the ability of a purchaser to sue a producer based on a production contract. I’ve written a more detailed blog post on this new law previously, which can be found here.
SB 1172 passed and was signed into law by Governor Abbott, effective on September 1. This law states that a political subdivision may not adopt an ordinance related to agricultural seed, vegetable seed, weed seed, or any other seed in any manner, including planting seed or cultivating plants grown from seed. Essentially, this means that local governments may not adopt regulations related to seeds, such as prohibiting planting GMO seed in their area, for example.
The Use of Unmanned Aircraft statute was amended by HB 1643 to include confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to the list of “critical infrastructure” facilities, allowing CAFOs certain statutory protections from drone flights. Click here to read a prior blog post I wrote detailing this statute. This amendment became effective on September 1.
HB 777 was signed by Governor Abbott on May 23, 2017 and went into effect immediately. This bill ensures that military members will not lose open- space valuation for property tax purposes if they are unable to keep land in agriculture while they are deployed or stationed outside of Texas so long as they intend to resume the qualifying use within 180 days of their return from deployment or being stationed out of state. Landowners who are deployed or stationed outside of Texas should notify their county appraisal district of their duty station and intent to return and use the property within 30 days of deployment.
SB 594 becomes effective January 1, 2018 and requires the Comptroller to develop and distribute manuals to county appraisal districts setting forth the method of appraising open-space and qualifying timberland. The rules published by the Comptroller will be developed in consultation with the Texas Department of Agriculture (for open-space) and the Texas Forest Service (for timber).
HB 3063 was passed and became effective on September 1, 2017. This bill seeks to expand protection for grain producers in the event of a grain elevator or warehouse failure. The bill provides that farmers have a lien on their grain if it is held in an open storage facility or in a licensed and bonded warehouse. [Read more here.]
Oil and Gas
HB 129 went into effect on September 1 and requires that oil and gas producers remitting royalty payments by check must provide the required royalty calculation information via check stub, attachment, or other remittance along with the payment, rather than by making this information available only online. A company could provide information in an online-only format only if the company obtained consent from the royalty owner.
HB 3198 makes clear that a county appraisal district may not revoke open-space or ag use valuation on land included in well pad sites or other oil and gas facilities if the remainder of the land not utilized for oil and gas operations otherwise qualifies for special use valuation. This bill was signed by Governor Abbott.
SB 1193 relates to digital assets and becomes effective September 1. The “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” deals with issues related to digital assets when the owner passes away. Texas Tech University School of Law professor Gerry Beyer wrote an article on this new statute and offers steps that should be taken related to digital assets when planning and administering estates.
HB 2271 made a number of changes related to estate and probate law. For example, the estate value qualifying for a small estate affidavit option (in lieu of probate) increased from $50,000 to $75,000.
SB 499 adopts the Uniform Heirs Property Act in Texas. The purpose of this statute is to limit the situations where a tenant-in-common can seek partition of family-owned property. It applies to co-tenants who acquire an undivided ownership in property through intestate succession. The Uniform Law Commission has a detailed summary of this Act available here.
SB 1249 sets forth a procedure for a cotenant heir to adversely possess property if the tenant meets certain requirements, including a 10 year adverse possession period.
HB 1974 makes a number of changes to statutes related to a durable power of attorney. This bill was intended to facilitate more widespread acceptance of a power of attorney by requiring that powers of attorney must be accepted unless a specific exception applies.
HB 995 modifies the medical power of attorney statute to make clear that in the event that a power of attorney appoints a spouse, and then the marriage is dissolved, annulled, or otherwise declared void, the medical power of attorney is revoked unless the document provides otherwise.
BILLS THAT FAILED
SBs 740, 741, and 742 and HBs 2684 and 2694 sought to create statutory protections for landowners facing eminent domain. The provisions included allowing recovery of attorney fees for a landowner who successfully challenges a company in court and a list of minimum provisions that would be required to be included in an easement agreement. Numerous agricultural and landowner groups worked together to draft and support these bills, which did not pass this session. Be looking for similar legislative efforts in 2019.
HB 1211 related to the rollback period if land is taken out of agricultural or open space valuation for tax purposes. Currently, owners of land no longer qualifying for the special use valution must pay a rollback tax of the difference between special use and regular valuation for the last five years and interest at a 7% rate. This bill sought to decrease the rollback period to three years and the interest rate to 5%. It was left pending in committee.
SB 1979 related to both eminent domain and property taxes. The language provided that if land was taken out of agricultural use due to condemnation, then the condemning entity was responsible for payment of any difference in property taxes. This bill passed the Senate, but died in the House Ways & Means Committee.
SB 862 would have allowed a court to award reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs to a prevailing party in a lawsuit involving a Groundwater Conservation District. Currently, the Water Code provides that a Groundwater Conservation District “shall” recover fees and costs if the district prevails in a case. The amendment would have amended this to say that a court “may” award fees and costs to any prevailing party in this type of litigation. Further, the bill would have capped an attorney fee award at $250,000. It passed the Senate, but was left pending in the House Natural Resources Committee.
Government Agency Actions
SB 813 would have allowed a person to recover damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs if he or she faced regulatory action by a state agency that was “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.” This bill passed the legislature and was sent to Governor Abbott, who vetoed it on on June 15. He stated that though the bill was “well-intentioned” it would subject the state to financial liablity that would be “borne by the taxpayers, not by the bureaucrats who caused the problem.”
HB 572 would have created a pesticide disposal fund, which would have been funded by pesticide registration fees collected by TDA. This bill passed both houses, but was vetoed by Governor Abbott without a statement.